I woke up to the stench of particle board. Just the day before, IKEA has delivered my new life, compactly packaged and priced, to my new studio apartment rental in Washington, D.C.
Because some items worked out and some didn’t, I decided to visit the Swedish superstore again, all the way out in the Maryland suburbs. On the train, leafing through the New Yorker issue, I stumbled on an article about this very retailer, aptly titled “House Perfect: Is the IKEA ethos comfy or creepy?”
The author, Lauren Collins, has moved eight times since graduating college in nearly as many years, making this Lego for adults an integral part of her experience. “IKEA can also be Swedish for feeling like you’re never going to grow up,” Collins writes. “The ease of self-invention that IKEA enables is liberating, but it can be sad to be able to make a life, or to dispose of it, so cheaply.”
I, too, have moved too much since graduating from college, sometimes multiple times per year. I’ve welcomed IKEA into my homes on both coasts. The Billy bookcases
and Lack side tables
the empire’s most popular products, have always been there to hold my books, drinks and luggage. Anywhere I go, the familiar blue and yellow logo cajoles all the way from the highway, beckoning to discard the debris of what has been and start anew in one swipe of a credit card.
But this time, the prospect of self-reinvention seemed pretty bleak. I ate the obligatory meatballs, then the $1 cinnamon roll. I hopped on the cart and rode around the warehouse floor for a bit, dodging shoppers and getting looks. I tried on the lifestyles of the showroom upstairs. Okay, so this birch bunk bed is probably what I’ll have when vacationing in Iceland with my future husband and children, as they eat pancakes and unwrap gifts from Jultomten, the Christmas man. This minimalist bar table with mood lighting and striped tablecloth is where I’ll serve cheese to friends as an established professional — along with wine from corked bottles, not the screwtop kind, naturally.
In each new home, an IKEA trip feels like the last time. This is it. Put down your roots. If you build it, they will come, and everything will work out just like it does for the smiling blonde folks in the catalogue. And the hammer flies faster, and the little hooked screwdriver turns a little easier.
But on this visit, the familiar flights of fancy failed to elicit my enthusiasm. After all, I’ve put together countless Billy bookshelves. I smiled back at numerous stick figures in the assembly manuals. I’ve hammered dozens of nails into various chests of drawers. I’ve bought at least six $1 toilet brushes. It’s like flunking math over and over again and being held back a year, instead of graduating up to Calculus with my age-appropriate cohort.
I’ve discarded these very furniture pieces on multiple curbs, sold on them on Craigslist or bequeathed them to friends in San Francisco, Brooklyn, New Jersey, Manhattan.
But here was the new home, and I had no choice. Getting back from the store, I expertly drove the nails of my future into Rast, and tightened the screws into the headboard of Leirvik, dreaming of the adventures awaiting within these walls, pretending it’s the first time I did so. And the lingonberry jam and brightly colored $20 duvet cover sparkled back, pretending, too, it’s the first time we’ve met. And we kept on like this, until the carnivalesque tent of self-reinvention was pitched once more, filled with the hopes of a virginal bride and promises of a new dawn, naively exhilarating.